I’m not going to win the lottery tonight. I didn’t buy a ticket. But even if I had, I wouldn’t win it.
You’re not going to win either.
The odds are 1 in 303 million.
I hated the statistics class I was required to take in college, but I learned enough to know those are crappy odds.
As the old saying goes, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than winning the lottery. Actually, you have a way better chance of getting hit by lightning. According to the National Weather Service, the average person has a 1-in-15,300 chance of getting struck by lightning in their lifetime.
Nevertheless, the lottery persists.
Today’s Mega Millions jackpot has risen to $1.1 billion, the second largest in the game’s 20-year history. The drawing will take place tonight. Mega Millions tickets are sold in 45 states plus Washington, DC and the US Virgin Islands. If nobody wins one of the twice-a-week drawings, the payout increases until someone finally hits the magic combination of numbers.
As you browse your favorite news site, listen to the radio or watch television today, you’re going to hear a lot about the jackpot. When someone finally wins, it will be big news. And it will change the winner’s life dramatically – perhaps in a good way but perhaps not.
Given the astronomically low odds of winning, why do people keep playing? Part of it is probably the joy of fantasy. As one of my family members says, “What’s a $2 ticket for an hour of dreaming?”
And then there’s this common justification: “Well if you don’t play, you’re definitely not going to win.” In other words, a miniscule chance is better than no chance at all.
When my wife worked in the corporate world years ago, all the employees on her team would go in together as a group and buy a lottery ticket each week. I teasingly asked her why she always joined in. Her answer was very practical: “If the office buys a winning ticket and you’re not part of it, you’re the only one showing up to work the next day.” The thought of doing everyone else’s work while they’re celebrating is indeed unappealing.
Whenever the jackpot reaches an especially high number, people like to play the “what-if” game. You ask each other, “If you win, what would you do with the money?”
I’ve played that game. It’s fun. Though I rarely purchase lottery tickets, I’ve thought about that question from time to time. I doubt I’d make a lot of big decisions right away, but I can tell you one thing: I sure as hell wouldn’t be flying commercial anymore.
I’ve listened to many other people answer that question.
Some people would go on a multi-million-dollar bender, spending everything on lavish luxuries – the classic “riches-to-rags” story of a lottery winner who eventually finds himself living on the streets.
It’s common for people to say, “Other than doing a few fun things and having more financial security, I probably wouldn’t change much at all.”
Or one of my favorites: “I’d probably keep my job.” (I actually would, because I enjoy what I do, but I’m not sure if I’d put in as many hours).
Some people say the new-found financial freedom would allow them to spend more time with friends/family, do meaningful work, volunteer for worthy causess and dive into hobbies.
The disappointing news is that you’re not going to win the lottery tonight. The liberating news is you don’t have to win the lottery to live like a lottery winner.
You want to quit a job you hate? Well, you don’t need to win the lottery to find a job that’s more enjoyable or suitable to your personality.
You want to spend more time with your family? Well, deliberately manage your schedule in a way that prioritizes important people in your life. There are many ways you can integrate your family and friends into your work.
You want to make the world a better place? Well, incorporate your passions into your work. Can you synthesize your business/job and your “causes?”
What about hobbies? One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to get paid for my hobby. In other words, figure out what you love and then find a job or start a business related to it. That’s what I’ve done.
Some readers of this column have amassed quite a bit of wealth, but it’s unlikely that you and I will ever have Mega Millions jackpot wealth. The cash-out value option of tonight’s jackpot is $648.2 million. For perspective, there are only 34,507 households in the United States that are worth more than $100 million – only 0.03% of all households.
But there are varying degrees of “wealth,” different ways to define “rich” or “lucky.” You’re rich if you have enough money to do what’s important to you. You’re wealthy if you’re empowered to make meaningful impacts on your world. You’re lucky if you love people and they love you back.
One other thought for commercial real estate professionals or anyone else who is paid based on their production – isn’t there something off-putting about money that comes without earning it?
I like what my money can do for me, but much of the fun comes from the game, building wealth through my thoughts, words and actions.